The Curriculum Project Report: Culture and Community Development in Higher Education

Arlene Goldbard, writer and consultant, reports on the findings of a collaborative research project on the state of community cultural development (CCD) education. The report begins by describing the vital signs that point toward a ripening awareness of the role of creativity in service to civil society and the public good. It then recounts what the stakeholders consider ideal CCD curriculum, the current state of CCD education, and unsolved challenges that cause a gap between the actual and the ideal. The report concludes with specific recommendations to advance CCD education and practice.

The research confirmed the hypothesis that a model curriculum contains a balance of three key elements: training, in both aesthetics and community organizing; community engagement, based on reciprocity; and scholarship, focusing on the field’s history and animating ideas. While 80% of educators and students responding to the surveys thought community engagement to be the most important component, 40% believed current training in engagement was insufficient.

The challenges reported include: vexed relationships between universities and their surrounding communities, including difficulty in fostering reciprocal, meaningful community engagement; uncertainty whether university norms can yield to CCD’s commitment to pluralism, participation, and equity and whether community knowledge could be integrated into academic programs; the problem of respecting the organic time of CCD projects within higher education’s time frameworks; an elitist orientation permeating arts departments; the tendency to assign faculty without deep CCD experience to teach in such programs; balancing scholarship, training, and community engagement within curricula; and making professionalization serve CCD rather than imposing inappropriate standards or restricting access through credentialing.

The Curriculum Project’s 74-page report is based on 28 in-depth interviews with community arts leaders and 231 online surveys from community artists and cultural organization leaders, educators, consultants and funders, students and recent graduates, and community partners. The report emphasizes first-person, unattributed testimony by this inclusive range of stakeholders. The research also included secondary source materials, including syllabi and course descriptions, in the context of campus-community arts partnerships.

Community cultural development (CCD), also known as community-based art, refers to a range of initiatives undertaken by artists in collaboration with other community members to express individual and group identity, concerns, and aspirations through the arts and communications media, while building the capacity for social action and contributing to social change.